5 boroughs. 8.4 million residents. nearly 800 languages spoken. 1 really big city of dreams.
Tackling a Recreationalist’s guide to New York City is no easy feat. The City That Never Sleeps has tediously earned its reputation by ensuring that there’s a plethora of activities to explore around every street corner and subway station.
New York City is iconic, period. (Some, especially thoroughbred New Yorkers, would even say it’s the center of our universe.) There’s more bucket list items than we could ever possibly fit into one guide — but that’s not what we’re here for. In our playbook to New York City, we’re honing in on only the most Recreational of spots — a complete dive into hidden gems, nooks and crannies, and all the shadiest, grassiest park areas that you’d never think to find within a concrete jungle.
To help us out, we’ve turned to Trinity Mouzon Wofford, the Brooklyn-based CEO and co-founder of wellness brand Golde, with help from holistic nutritionist Bianca Valle and multihyphenate creative Madison Utendahl, for an in-depth look at all the places that make New York City the most visited hub in America.
We know, we know. You probably didn’t expect us to start off a New York City guide with an in-depth tour of Brooklyn, but we think the eastbound borough holds some of the most Recreation-friendly spots in the city. Get in on all the most vibrant, rowdy, and yes, socially distant Brooklyn to-dos from Trinity Mouzon Wofford.
“Some of my favorite views are from New York’s rooftops, which I lowkey don’t think we’re really supposed to go on — but that’s pretty much the story for every New Yorker. I’ve got a lot of stories about being on rooftops that I wasn’t supposed to be on.” Shop Trinity’s full outfit at Outdoor Voices.
“I’ve been in Bed-Stuy for about two years now, and a big piece of my excitement in moving here was the opportunity to live in a historically Black neighborhood,” says Trinity. “I’d never had the chance to immerse myself in people who look like me.”
“There’s a real powerful neigborhood energy to Bed-Stuy. People recognize you; the same kids play on the block. A lot of these people have been here for generations, so there’s an incredible sense of ownership in the locals.”
Trinity and her life partner and co-founder Issey like picking up a slice at Saraghina — and if you’re feeling frisky, a cocchi-based drink with club soda poured atop — before a mid-morning walk and talk from Bed-Stuy to Fort Greene.
a lot of people have been in bedstuy for generations, so there’s an incredible sense of ownership in the locals here.
“Typically, my partner Issey and I will walk a loop from our neighborhood over toward Tompkins Avenue in Fort Greene and back. Walk up Tompkins to get to Sincerely, Tommy for some light shopping.”
“From there, I’m usually walking toward the Clinton Hill area between Bedstuy and Fort Greene to a cute bakery called Clementine. Back when we were on a tight budget, we would get up early a couple mornings a week and head over for one dollar day-old pastries. If you go first thing in the morning, they’re still really really good.”
If you’re looking for a fuller day’s worth of Recreation, start over in trendy, cozy, millennial-endorsed Williamsburg.
Pick up onigiri rice balls and Trinity’s favorite matcha latte in the city (we know, bold statement) at Brooklyn Ball Factory. Cross the street to get to Peche or Lichen for some vintage window shopping. Follow that route line all the way until the edge of the Williamsburg Bridge.
“Pre-bridge crossing, you’re going to want some fuel. I really like Leo Sourdough for awesome pizza by the slice,” says Mouzon Wofford.
So you may have heard of the Manhattan Bridge; you’ve definitely heard of the Brooklyn Bridge. But Trinity insists that the Williamsburg Bridge, though more utilitiarian and less bucket-listed, is where you’ll get the best golden hour shot. “Once you’re at the top, you get a really classic view down across the East River and into the Lower East Side. The bridge is pink, so it’s really gorgeous if you go around sunset.”
Make like Trinity and carve out a morning for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden at Prospect Park. “I’m always so impressed with how removed you feel from the city.”
Trinity recommends the Cherry Esplanade for the lushest, fluffiest lawn area for sitting, hanging, and general activity.
“If it makes sense for the day, it’s also not too far from Ample Hills Creamery. They have the most fun flavors and it doesn’t feel fancy. It’s just the really good, classic, creamy stuff.” Trinity recommends getting a double scoop of Sweet Cream & Cookies and The King of Mangoes.
Arguably the most crowded and bustling of all the NYC boroughs, Manhattan might not be the first thing in mind when you think of Recreational. People are always commuting, near sprinting across intersections, and the whole borough just never seems to … stop. For when you find yourself searching for little oases in the heart of everything, use this section.
If you have a clear weather weekend morning to spare, Trinity recommends hitting the iconic Union Square Greenmarket. “It’s basically the wonderland of fresh produce.”
“It’s right in the center of the city, it kind of marks lower Manhattan. From there, you can really have a whole day.”
“Speaking as someone from upstate New York, where a lot of the city’s produce comes from, the breadth at Union Square is just completely unmatched,” says Trinity.
Washington Square Park is one of those cliché bucket-list classics that’s cliché for a reason — local or visitor, you can’t help but love it. “It’s such a melting pot of every possible New York persona. If you go there on any given day, on top of the people watching, you’re probably listening to someone play the sax and someone else play the piano.”
Lower East Side
If the Upper East Side is Gossip Girl, then LES is Euphoria. Holistic nutritionist and Chinatown resident Bianca Valle suggests spending an hour or two shooting hoops or playing doubles with friends on the courts at Seward Park in Two Bridges.
After, make your way to Dimes — a three-in-one restaurant, cafe, and grocery shop in LES. Bianca loves the Black Rice dish, while Trinity says, and we quote directly, that their grocery section stocks “the best dates in America.”
Find the best dates in America at Dimes on the Lower East Side.
“Chinatown is cool because it’s sandwiched in between the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge, and it has a lot of love and character and excitment to it,” says Bianca. For an eclectic range of East Asian fruits and produce, visit the markets between Mulberry and Canal. “Sometimes I’ll be on my way to meet a friend for a run and buy a tangerine on the way for about 80 cents.”
Many of Chinatown’s staples are run by multigenerational immigrant families who aren’t on social media — but they’re crucial to the local economy and cultural preservation of Manhattan. Whether you’re looking to support from afar or find the next (socially distanced) walking food tour, check out Welcome to Chinatown.
South Street Seaport
One of the oldest standing neighborhoods in New York City, South Street Seaport has come to be a Recreationalist favorite for building a whole day’s itinerary of eats, sights, and activity. Known for its unique urban landscape and historical charm, South Street Seaport is filled with all the surprise and delight moments that make exploring New York so unpredictable.
As our resident Seaport stan Madison Utendahl explains: “Because it’s a historical district, these buildings can’t expand their dining rooms, or buy the building next door and knock down a wall. So they’ve had to add parks to their roofs and speakeasies in the back to make this district exciting.”
Take on Front Street (at your preferred leisurely pace) with an empty stomach and “hop from place to place to grab little bites, depending on how big your appetite is.”
Get your caffeine kick at The Little Shop — another classic three-in-one combo of grocery store, coffee shop, and backdoor speakeasy (open during non-COVID times).
Still hungry? Madison recommends giving Fish Market a chance. “It looks like a shitty dive bar, and it is a shitty dive bar — I’m not saying that to be an asshole, it’s very much intended. But in the back is a family-owned restaurant that has great clams and seafood staples.”
For our pescatarians: Madison lives for the grilled salmon at Barbalu, and her boyfriend loves their rigatoni. “There are just some places that get it right all the time, you know?”
Pro Tip: “There are a couple of elevated public parks on top of some of the bars in Seaport that most people don’t realize are there. If you take a bunch of the big stairs you see, you’ll be amazed by all these huge parks on top of these buildings that give you unbelievable views of Brooklyn.”
Trinity in the Athena Crop and RecTrek Pants by Outdoor Voices. Shop the look here.
Bonus round! Venture out of New York’s more crowded boroughs for a delightful taste of homestyle New York in Queens. But be warned: no scene-y business allowed.
Looking for a day trip escape without leaving the city? Trinity loves getting lost in Jackson Heights: the most culturally diverse neighborhood in America, where you can encounter up to 167 languages in a singular block. Jigsawed together by various coexistent immigrant communities, Jackson Heights is the perfect non-getaway-getaway when you want to feel totally unknown in a city that romanticizes extreme familiarity.
“There’s a certain sense of feeling very invisible, in a good way. Like no one’s really bothered with you,” according to Trinity. “Everyone’s got their own thing going on, but they’re really excited to welcome you altogether.”
Before you head off to the Empire City, buff up your cultural index right from the couch. Head to wildsam.com for the full Field Guides collection.
The classic New York cocktails in “Meehan’s Bartender Manual”. Buy here.
“Downtown 81” by renowned artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Stream here.
Goods for your study by Goods For The Study. Browse here.
Your hand at The New Yorker’s weekly cartoon contest. Enter here.
“Open City” by Teju Cole. Buy here.
Editor’s Note: Given the current state of the world, The Recreationalist does not encourage long distance travel to any particular region. Instead, these guides were crafted to pay homage to the local people, communities, and cultures that have kept these cities strong for generations, and perhaps even for learning a new thing or two about the place you call home.
Featured photos by Trinity Mouzon Wofford and Joanne Xu.
Culture list and illustration by WILDSAM.
What else did we miss? Comment your favorite Recreational spots in New York City below.